Tanisha Bhana Milk for Dust | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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Milk for Dust

Milk for Dust ©

Like rain to sand
He bought blood from my veins, with shameful notes
but saw only refuse in the costume of my body;
Attracted and repulsed, he strangled my throat
And threw me aside to the gutter of the road.

Lifeless and stained, I picked up the chalice of my name
and grabbed pennies in the mud
But it was not enough to buy food for flesh
So tomorrow again, I will sell milk for dust.

In the tedious quest of pleasure for refuge,
Magnetising the infinite, eternal lure of feminine,
Risking the ceaseless sewer of repugnance,
I fill my chalice with sand for blood
And live on empty veins of lust.

Tanisha Bhana (for Nasreen)


Sometimes, I walk down the streets of concrete and tar, and listen to the silent screams of commodities consumed. And then I retreat to the pathways of sand and dust, and I feel the embers of an affectionate innocence once lost.

The title of my poem ‘Milk for Dust’, being an expression of the true value that we sometimes place on the things that we consume, describes the reality that every day, we sell our skills, goods, services, dreams, personality ... in return for items of various forms of consumption. Our relationship to friends, animals, people, and the environment is often dependant on the nature of the trade.

Often the Trade defines our relationships and we become detached from the person/s behind the transaction, adjusting one’s behaviour towards the achievement of one’s goals in the transaction itself.

Even the human body, similar to the human mind, is a valid resource as an item of trade. Although perceived with disgust, product demand for prostitution and human trafficking has not waned through the ages. Using the face of the ultimate trade, i.e. prostitution, as a metaphor for the faces that we wear in our daily life’s trades, I attempt to take the viewer to the aftermath of places of recycled consumption by simultaneously using the human body as an item for sale.

To connect with the human trade, I built a relationship with three prostitutes based in Johannesburg over a period of 2 years and integrated a day in my life with theirs in my free time on a monthly basis. In a voyeuristic manner, I listened to their dreams, life experiences and disappointments and observed their display of various personas in their telephonic interactions with clients.

Performing mostly voyeuristic photo excursions in partially urban and partially natural settings with each woman separately, I tried to capture the moments when their ‘masks’ were removed, revealing the real ‘face’ and expressions of the person behind the personas.

The models for this portfolio are each daughters, friends, wives, mothers and sex workers that live among us, and share their stories of selling Milk for Dust. Some have been beaten, raped, kidnapped, exploited, but also loved, respected and cared for by someone in their lives. Their dreams and hopes connect with every human spirit and I attempt to humanise their life experience in the mind of the viewer.

As the demand for continuous material and perishable wealth grows within the human species, I often question the true value of the resources used in our products of consumption, i.e. the true value of our plants, animals, people, bodies, dreams and personalities.

I wonder if the product is worth the true resources applied, and sometimes as a consumer, feel the guilt of knowing that what the Seller and Buyer have lost, may not cover the price of the item for sale.

Attempting to find the innocence once lost in human life experience, irrespective of the nature of the trade, my works look for the possibility of the beautiful balance in every unrestrained thing.


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